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Balboa Delays Raising of Its Curtain

Money woes push back reopening of historic theater in Newport until fall of 2001.


The reopening of the historic Balboa Theater in Newport Beach as a home for live stage productions and art-house films has been postponed until at least the fall of 2001.

The project has fallen behind in fund-raising for restoration of the 73-year-old theater on the Balboa Peninsula, said board members of the Balboa Theater Performing Arts Center Foundation.

The initial goal was to open later this year or early next year, converting the 73-year-old theater into a busy venue for musicals, live concerts, plays, children's productions and movie screenings.

"We've rescheduled the opening several times," conceded foundation president Dayna Pettit.

Organizers say they need $3 million more in donations for the project. The foundation has already raised $1.5 million for the first phase of construction that will include seismic upgrades and building a lower level to accommodate restrooms, offices, a green room and dressing rooms.

Board members want enough financial cushion to ensure the project gets completed and doesn't lose steam--an endowment of $500,000 to $1 million must be established for the theater's first year of operation.

"It's all so unpredictable at this point and it all depends on fund-raising," said Michele Roberge, executive director of the Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation, which received an unexpected $10,000 donation from a local resident Monday. At least $20,000 has been raised in the last couple of months, organizers say.

Donations have trickled in slowly this summer because most potential donors are on vacation and because the campaign has been proceeding quietly, Roberge said.

"We have about 30 people now who are willing to contribute. But most of the campaign effort has been by word of mouth," Roberge said.

The campaign will kick into high gear in September when Newport Beach residents will receive notices of the fund drive in their September water bills. Newspaper and direct-mail advertisements will appear through early October.

Events such as a live music concert featuring the Four Freshmen, a '60s band, at the Balboa Pavilion on Oct. 5, and a 5K run for the arts on Oct. 28, with a chance to win a free trip to Catalina Island, are part of the fund-raising efforts.

Built in 1927, the vintage theater was used as a vaudeville house and movie palace. Located close to Newport Bay, it was vacated in 1992 and neglected. Seawater had seeped into the building, creating a "sand box" inside the theater that became infested with insects and pigeons.

Organizers want to turn the old movie house into an intimate, state-of-the-art performance and movie screening space.


"What we're trying to create is a high-tech, jazzy theater with 350 stadium-style seats," said Craig Smith, president of the project's architectural firm, Holmes and Narver.

The plan is to raise $1 million in large donations. There will also be another major push for smaller contributions in a "2,000 in 2000" campaign--2,000 benefactors can donate $1,000 each to have their names permanently etched on a glass art wall in the theater's lobby. The donations are tax-deductible.

"We want to make sure it's a community asset, and we want to get as many people involved as possible," Roberge said.

Birtcher Construction Services is managing renovations that are expected to take no more than 10 months to complete, organizers say. Construction will resume in September after the city has approved permits for the project.

To heighten visibility for their cause, organizers plan to host open houses next month and display posters and a small model of the renovated theater.

Theater-goers can expect a cozy, old-fashioned, rather than movie-megaplex experience.

"We won't have a concessions area like they have at movie theaters, but we'll have kiosks with wine, coffee, snacks and beverages," Pettit said.

Organizers hope the renovated theater will bring attention back to the community's core.

"We want it to be a rich, cultural center right here, where the history of Newport Beach and Balboa began," Pettit said.

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